What makes a great online class?

As I near the end of my requirements of my Masters in Library and Information Science, I have the great opportunity to work on an remote instructional librarian internship. As part of the University of Alabama national cohort distance education, the majority of my classes have been online. Although, one of my most treasured experiences with the distance education cohort was our first class was actually in person on campus which helped me become connected to the University and assisted in creating class collaborations and group work.  Completing my degree online his has been great experience since I had to learn cutting edge technology, troubleshooting and could experience online educational outreach so I can become a great information literacy teacher.

 

So this leads me to reason for this post, what makes a great online teacher? Today’s college students are very diverse, some come to college right out of high school,  some work, save money and then go back.  Current college students do not all fit the same mold, some have families, hold full time jobs so learning does not always occur in the classroom or even the same geographic location.  Flexibility is key to reach these students.

 

Since the majority of my program has been online,  I have found that certain techniques are beneficial.  I personally prefer synchronous over asynchronous classes.  I.like the real time accountability and discussions of synchronous classes so having the class at a set time was really helpful to me to complete this degree.  If this program was filled with asynchronous classes where you watch a video at your own time I would not have succeeded.  There is a time and place for asynchronous classes but I personally found asynchronous classes or classes not in real time to be confusing and lonely.  This led to dissatisfaction in the asynchronous class, I kept thinking am paying tuition I should be able to have a learning environment and discussions  with my classmates and professor, if not why pay to go to school to learn in a vacuum?  

 

So this is a problem for the online classroom how do you create a class culture?  When taking an asynchronous class, I felt like I was  being cast adrift in a canoe in the middle of an ocean with no map.  Whereas in a class that meets regularly everyone is starting out in their own canoe out in the ocean but there is communication between classmates and professors that can help you figure out how to find the paddle and read the navigation maps. It is important to have frequent in person check ins maybe with polls, games or questions,  for accountability and to see if students are struggling.  So how does this apply if make an asynchronous class more accountable – I suggest set online office times, email and contact information, so students can have discussions and brainstorming sessions and not learn in a vacuum.  To show accountability when not face to face – questions that need to be typed in or polls help show who is still paying attention.

 

It is a good practice for online and classroom instructors to regularly review lessons to make sure links work, articles are up to date and information is applicable.  This is particularly important in asynchronous classes where learning depends on watching videos or completing reading on your own time and completing assignments for credit.  Technology  and computer software is constantly changing so when a video created even a few months ago on an old platform such as Microsoft 8 is not going to be relevant and will lead to massive student confusion if a new platform such as Microsoft 10 is now being used.  So regularly reviewing articles, links, and videos for current content is important.  Frequent checking in of students using the content will help the instructor keep the information current.

Each student is unique and adds a different perspective.  To catch the student’s attention a good hook is needed, otherwise the temptation to check facebook, twitter or online shopping becomes too great, both online and in a classroom. The problem with online learning is the instructor can;t tell when the student is distracted.  I tend to like learning for the sake of learning but even I tend to pay greater attention and retain more when I can see a reason why learning the material.  So having an objective and a hook is really important.  Another useful technique for engaging students is project based learning.  How can you do hands on project based learning when online? It is assignments based on real world projects such as web usability studies, that determine if a company’s website is user friendly, homework based on actual questions patrons asked a librarian, creating actual research guides, and making an online poster with powerpoint while collaborating with a classmate in another state.  Non traditional students balancing work, family, school do not need busy work, the more practical the project the more time resources were spent on in and more information was retained.

 

As a high school teacher I learned that there are many different types of learners:  visual, auditory, kinesthetic, to read and writing learners, so each lesson needs to take that in account.  The best online courses I have taken have a reading or a textbook to address read writing learners, concurrent visuals such as slides, along with auditory so if the internet connection gets interrupted you could still hear what was going on or if the audio cut out, could still see what was going on, and if all else fails there is a reading or transcript.  I personally found the recording feature of blackboard a great feature since when there are too many connection interruptions,or life distractions it was helpful to go back and watch the recording to fill in the gaps. I find it annoying taking an online class and the instructor is talking and the slides are blank or not relevant.  Being able to see the key words spelled out when being discussed is significantly helpful when people of various dialects or accents are presenting so everyone is included.

 

In summary, learning can occur either together in classroom or online with students in various geographies maybe even different time zones, it can be face to face or on one’s own time.  In general the lesson plan or content the teacher needs to convey is the same however the method of delivery must be tailored to the class, instructors who acknowledge that tend to be great teachers both in person and online.

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